Review: Hickies, a Novella, and Four Short Stories ~ Jerry DePyper

HickiesISBN ~ 978-1470006778
Publisher ~ Createspace
No. Of Pages ~ 172 pages
Links ~ eBay, Amazon, Bokus

Human clones will soon be living among us. Ever wonder what that might be like? Will they look and act like everyone else, or will there be something missing, some barely noticeable oddity?

At some point in the future, you might find yourself working or studying right next to a cloned human, and not even know it. Until something bizarre happens. For all you know, your best friend or the one you live with might be a clone. Who knows? You might be a clone yourself.

This may sound like science fiction, but the mood of Hickies is more philosophical than high-tech or scientific. The futuristic theme becomes a mere stage upon which to explore the depths of the human psyche and soul, and to inquire into what it means to be human.

In this volume, the fictional work Hickies is complemented by four other short stories, all by the same author, and all of which may be represented as one layman’s ruminations and as simple forays into the fields of psychology and moral theology.

4 Thumbs-UpThis novella disturbed me in some very uncomfortable ways, it made me examine whether there is a possibility that, regardless of race or species, history could very well have a habit of repeating itself.  If the thought of the ghettos and labour camps of World War II make you uncomfortable, this may not be the book for you; regardless of that there is one thing this book will make you do, and that is think deeply about the world we now live in and the relationship between religion and science.

At first I was a little bothered by the fact that the characters had no real depth and substance to them, but as I continued reading I realised that this omission may very well have been a deliberate act on the part of the Author.  So little is known about the personality, traits and general reality of human cloning that by omitting any of the things that go into making us what we are the Author adds to their topic very nicely, and this leads to more questions being asked of themselves by the reader; How would I react?  Would I support them in my Community?

The downside to this novella for me, and the reason it didn’t get the five thumbs it may have, were one, the typos I came across which should have been easily picked up by a competent proof-reader and two, the novella becoming very religion based and preachy towards the end.  Rather than continuing the possible reasons behind what it means to be human, I felt that the Author was telling me that if I did not have religion in my life it was pretty much not a life.  I am not sure if the Author let their personal feelings on this subject enter the book but, for me, it felt as if the novella suddenly turned into a recruiting tool for the Catholic Church.  However, this did not make me miss the connection between the plight of the clones and the aid from the Church and those same connections that were made between Church and the Jews in WWII; this was not the only comparison to be found, and to reveal others would spoil the book for future readers.  Apart from the two points mentioned I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and finished it in a single day due to its engrossing nature.

I would highly recommend this novella, and the accompanying short stories which I have not reviewed here, to anyone is interested in psychology, philosophy and science or anyone looking for a good read that is not going to take days to complete; it would also make a good addition to any book club reading list due to the discussions it could foster.  I will definitely be reading more from this Author as I am interested to see how their style and technique develop as they become more proficient.

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Review: Poetics ~ Aristotle

poeticsISBN ~ 978-0486295770
Publisher ~ Dover Publications
No. Of Pages ~ 60 pages
Links ~ Amazon

Among the most influential books in Western civilization, the Poetics is really a treatise on fine art. It offers seminal ideas on the nature of drama, tragedy, poetry, music, and more, including such concepts as catharsis, the tragic flaw, unities of time and place and other rules of drama. This inexpensive edition enables readers to enjoy the critical insights of one humanity’s greatest minds laying the foundations for thought about the arts.

3 Thumbs-UpThis little book looks to address the different kinds of poetry, the structure of a good poem, and the division of a poem into its component parts. Aristotle defines poetry as a ‘medium of imitation’ that seeks to represent or duplicate life through character, emotion, or action, he defines poetry very broadly, including epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, dithyrambic poetry, and even some kinds of music; however it also serves as the basis from which all literary criticism arose and it is apparent that some of his ideas have survived the centuries when reading reviews from well-respected personage in this field.

Not my usual book review but I feel that all lovers, be they readers or writers, of literature could benefit from reading this short treatise on literature, rather than it being reserved and known only to those who are studying English Literature at whatever level.

It is not an easy read, but it wasn’t so hard that I felt I was drowning in syrup and, although I did not pick this up for enjoyment I did find myself enjoying most everything in it.  Whilst reading through the pages, it made me begin to examine the yardstick I use for my own review of books, and also the reasoning behind my choice as to whether I read a certain book or not.  From reading this I have come away with the feeling my scope is too narrow, and I need to broaden my reading horizons.  As much as this little book made me think, I can only give it a 3 thumbs rating as there were times when, as much as I liked Aristotle’s point of view, I wanted to choke him like a chicken.

This is a must read for anyone studying literature and literary criticism, but also for those who write as it may open a new direction and thought process to them that they can then apply into their works.

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Review: The Face in the Mirror: a transhuman identity crisis (Reflections #1) ~ T.R. Brown

The Face in the mirrorWhat does it mean to be human?

Imagine you’re in a tragic accident.
You expect to die!
Instead you awaken in a body that is not yours.
Not even your own species!
Not even your own gender.

In a desperate attempt to save your life your brain has been transplanted into the only body available, the body of a genetically engineered slave.

Everyone is quick to assure you that you are still “legally human,” but you know that when any stranger sees you they see property or perhaps a Frankenstenian abomination.

It is a transformation that forces Todd Hershel to reevaluate his sense of self, his gender identity, her sexual orientation and how humanity relates to its biological creations.

If your brain is in a new body whose soul do you have?

3 Thumbs-UpThere is an old saying “never judge a book by its cover”, and that is especially true in the case of this book.  If I had picked this up in a store, the cover alone would have made me put this back on the shelf, without even reading the synopsis and, by doing that I would have missed out on interesting read.  However, for those who are made uncomfortable by gender identity issues I would recommend giving this book as miss as they are a strong theme here.

This is the second book I’ve read in about a week that has really made me re-evaluate the world we live in, and what exactly it means to be “human”, and what happens when elements of our own “personality” clash with those of the donor of any organs we may have.  This book brings with it a whole slew of questions, many of which it manages to answer through its main protagonist.  This character is being pulled six ways from Sunday, not only by the confusion they feel within themselves and their dreams, but from also from the futuristic society that they live in.  Through the emotional trials and tribulations this character encounters, the reader is also made to address issues that are the forefront in many circles today, and without giving away any spoilers, it is hard to indicate what these are.  It was easy for me to feel sympathy for the main as they went through their growing pains from denial to acceptance, and the way in which the Author portrays this transition makes the journey feel real and not far-fetched as one might think.

Despite this being a very constructed and detailed plot line that makes this kind of future plausible, it felt at times as if the Author own technical knowledge took over the plot at the times when more action or drama would have been suitable.  There has obviously been a lot of research in the fields covered in this novel; such as ethics, and psychology, but again this seemed to dominate in places where it just didn’t seem appropriate and this, I feel, will make the book a rather ponderous read for some people.  What made me give the rating I did to this book was the lack of background on some of the players mentioned within its pages, I’m not sure if this is going to covered in more detail in future books in the series, but the omission of it in the first book left me feeling that the book was definitely lacking something that would have taken it up a notch.

If you are a reader looking for something a little different, that will make you think outside the box, and actually take notice of the world we live in, and on, then this is a read of you.  Despite my 3 thumbs rating I will be reading others in the series to see how it develops.

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Review: The Transhumanist Wager ~ Zoltan Istvan

TranshumanistThe novel debuts a challenging original philosophy, which rebuffs modern civilization by inviting the end of the human species—and declaring the onset of something greater.

Set in the present day, the novel tells the story of transhumanist Jethro Knights and his unwavering quest for immortality via science and technology. Fighting against him are fanatical religious groups, economically depressed governments, and mystic Zoe Bach: a dazzling trauma surgeon and the love of his life, whose belief in spirituality and the afterlife is absolute. Exiled from America and reeling from personal tragedy, Knights forges a new nation of willing scientists on the world’s largest seasteading project, Transhumania. When the world declares war against the floating city, demanding an end to its renegade and godless transhuman experiments and ambitions, Knights strikes back, leaving the planet forever changed.

3 Thumbs-UpI didn’t love this book but then again I didn’t hate it; it was a book that made me think and one that I will probably re-read as I felt, by the time I finished it that there may have been some points that were made I had missed.

Because of the nature of this particular book, it is almost impossible to write a critique of all the usual things I do when writing a review; plus this is the kind of book that everyone could read and still not see the things in it others do.  If you do decide to give this book a read, do not go into it with any expectations as you may be disappointed.

This is a book that will ultimately challenge the readers cultural beliefs about life and everything connected with it and, unless you are a transhumanist yourself this can prove to be very daunting.  However, this is not a bad thing as too many books do not challenge their readers to think anymore; and ultimately this is a book full of ideas.  And to me, this is where it met its downfall; it is so full of ideas that, at times, it began to read like a thesis and not a novel.  The content, and the driving forces behind the characters in the book need to have such close attention paid to them, that it was not the kind of book I could read while waiting in line or at an appointment; not even the kind I could read during my lunch hour at work, it demands the readers full attention to wholly grasp what it is saying.

If you enjoy reading books by Ayn Rand you would most likely enjoy this read too.  If this is your first journey into the subject of transhumanism, I would probably recommend something a little less weighty.  I may edit this review after a second read through, but at the time of this posting I stand by my comments.

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Review: 30-Second Philosophies: The 50 most thought-provoking philosophies, each explained in half a minute ~ Barry Loewer (Editor), Julian Baggini (contributor) et al.

30 seconds30-Second Philosophies takes a revolutionary approach to getting a grip on the 50 most significant schools of philosophy. The book challenges leading thinkers to quit fretting about the meaning of meaning for a while and explain the most complex philosophical ideas-using nothing more than two pages, 300 words, and a metaphorical image. Here, in one unique volume, you have the chance to pick the potted brains of our leading philosophers and understand complex concepts such as Kant’s Categorical Imperative without ending up in a darkened room with an ice pack on your head.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book is one of a collection of 30-second books.  This doesn’t mean it takes you 30 seconds to read the entire thing, now that would be silly, it means it takes several schools of philosophy and gives a base explanation in nothing more than two pages per school.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it’s one of those books I like to have lying around to dip in and out of at will; however, on my first read through I did start at the beginning at go through to the end.

The book and its contents are simple, straightforward and easy to understand, each being given a two page spread with about 300 words, some fun facts and an illustration that may, or may not relate to what you’ve just read.  Various schools of thought are covered by dividing the book into seven chapters such as language and logic and religion to name but two, and this all ties together into a neat little package that is more a historical review than a guide to current thinking in this field.

I enjoyed this book, and other in the series, because they expand on my knowledge or actually give me ammunition when faced with a conversation on a subject I’ve not studied; and every reader needs to be well armed at the dinner party of today, all written in language that the lay-person can understand.

I would recommend this book to those readers who are looking for something educational, fun and interesting to read, and those readers looking for an introduction to philosophy.

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Review: Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize ~ Sean B. Carroll

Brave GeniusThe never-before-told account of the intersection of some of the most insightful minds of the 20th century, and a fascinating look at how war, resistance, and friendship can catalyze genius.

In the spring of 1940, the aspiring but unknown writer Albert Camus and budding scientist Jacques Monod were quietly pursuing ordinary, separate lives in Paris. After the German invasion and occupation of France, each joined the Resistance to help liberate the country from the Nazis, ascended to prominent, dangerous roles, and were very lucky to survive. After the war and through twists of circumstance, they became friends, and through their passionate determination and rare talent they emerged as leading voices of modern literature and biology, each receiving the Nobel Prize in their respective fields.

Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how each man endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth century and then blossomed into extraordinarily creative and engaged individuals. It is a story of the transformation of ordinary lives into exceptional lives by extraordinary events–of courage in the face of overwhelming adversity, the flowering of creative genius, deep friendship, and of profound concern for and insight into the human condition.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book is a definite departure from the usual works of this Author, in which he normally addresses the subject of biology; evolutionary biology to be exact, but in this case he has turned his writing skills to history.  This book covers the stories of Albert Camus, Nobel Prize-winning writer / philosopher and political activist, and also that of Jacques Monod, Nobel Prize-winning biologist and French resistance fighter.  I started reading this book not having any real knowledge of either Camus or Monod, but by the time I turned the final page the Author had done an outstanding job of expanding my education in this area.

Before the reader picks this up they need to be aware that it is a book of two distinct halves.  The first half of the book centres on Occupied France during World War II and gives an in-depth look, from the French viewpoint as to what life was like living under German rule. It is apparent that the Author spent a great deal of time researching this aspect of the book as they cover in great detail the extent to which the occupation affected France, and also the circumstances that led to some of the occurrences that took place.  This aspect alone makes it a great and informative read for anyone that has only a basic understanding of this era in history as it pertained to France.   The Author gives the reader a personal look at these times, and from this they will be able to pick out the influence that World War II had on Camus and his future writing.  The second half focuses on the work of Camus and Monod after the end of the war.  Again it is very detailed and shows the reader, once again, the amount of time to research that the Author has invested during their writing of this historical chronicle.

The book is a very well documented and worthwhile the read and, although the Author paints the picture of both these men with a very broad brush, he still manages to convey the qualities that made these men great; that is the work they carried out beyond their own vocations.  The Author also manages to stir in the reader feelings of admiration for both Camus and Monod to such an extent that sadness follows when we read about their deaths.

It is a long, very long read and due to the in-depth descriptions of activities taking place it can take some time to navigate; this makes it definitely not a book that can be delved into and absorbed within a few days, it needs time to be taken over it to be able to process everything that can be learnt from its pages.  There were also some areas of the book that left me wondering as to the reactions and feelings of other persons mentioned, but these were just little annoyances in, what otherwise, is a very educating read.

I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in, or wanting to learn about Camus, Monod, and the way world was in their lifetime; it was would also be of great interest to anyone who enjoys a good non-fiction book that is slightly different from others in the genre.  Readers of World War II history and philosophy may also enjoy this book.

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